By Genevieve Hinson, MotherOfConfusion.com
“Glee’s” Lauren Potter wants you to end the use of the “R” word. Recently Potter, who is known as Becky Jackson on the show Sue Sylvester’s (Jane Lynch) assistant cheerleader — stepped into a brighter spotlight as an ambassador to help those with special needs with the “Disable Bullying” campaign.
It’s no secret that bullying is an issue with today’s kids. What’s surprising is that no one’s talking about the largest demographic of children who experience abuse and hate speech by their peers — children with special needs. They’re two to three times more likely to be victims of teasing, name calling, physical abuse and online attacks. That’s 50 to 80 percent of special needs children being bullied. Unfortunately, bystanders often stay quiet. Up to 85 percent watch and, even if they want to, don’t say or do anything to make it stop.
Potter knows how it feels. She’s been teased and made the butt of the joke because of her differences — she has Down Syndrome. In a recent interview to launch the “Disable Bullying” campaign and talk about the “Walk a Mile in Their Shoes” report, Potter shared a bullying incident about boys following and taunting her at school.
“It was real hard at first, and the boys were too immature,” Potter said. “I would tell them, ‘You know what? It’s time to grow up.’ ”
“It’s hard as a parent when your child comes home every single day after school and they’re upset and they’re crying and they don’t want to go back to school because of the mean things that children are doing,” Robin Sinkhorn, Potter’s mom, said. “Lauren’s handled that situation better than I ever could’ve done.
“Lauren found her voice and that’s what we’re doing here today and through this campaign is we’re helping children with disabilities to find their voice.”
Helping to launch the “Disable Bullying” campaign are Sheryl Young (CEO, Community Gate and AbilityPath.org), Anthony Shriver (Founder and Chairman, Best Buddies International), Timothy Shriver (Chairman and CEO, Special Olympics), U.S. Representative Jackie Speier (Calif.-D) and Tom Torlakson (California State Superintendent of Public Instruction).
One of the obstacles is the mindset of adults. Often they don’t take the bullying seriously, possess a get-over-it mentality, or don’t believe these children should be mainstreamed in general education classrooms.
Adults don’t take it seriously? It’s difficult to believe at first but …
When was the last time you heard the word “retard?” (Or the word ” ‘tard?”) Was it uttered from your lips in jest to a friend or co-worker? Did you hear it as a putdown on a TV sitcom or radio show? Was it mumbled by a child to a sibling, but you thought ‘meh, it’s not really a bad word’ and let it slide? Did you think about it twice at all?
If you didn’t, you’re not alone.
Timothy Shriver (Chairman and CEO, Special Olympics) pointed out the silent epidemic is silent because it’s a problem most people don’t recognize. The Special Olympics and Best Buddies, with many other organizations, launched a campaign to sensitize the public to the language of humiliation and degradation but struggled in their efforts to educate that the word ‘retard’ is hate speech.
“What we found was that people said, we don’t think we have a problem. We don’t see why this is hate speech. We don’t understand why you want to change the way we refer to one another when we’re trying to make fun of people,” Shriver said. “It’s awakened in us all, I think within this movement, to the realization that we have a civil rights movement that we’re struggling to create here. People don’t understand we have a whole history of injustice that’s gone over centuries of injustice.
“The humiliation, the institutionalization, and all sorts of horrible crimes perpetrated in the name of care against people with special needs. So, we’re trying to awaken the country now, to the idea that there is an epidemic and that it has to stop.”
Bullying doesn’t stop at a word, but it’s a start.
Even now, Lauren Potter isn’t immune to taunts and meanness from others. Recently, her Facebook fan page was attacked by cyberbullies who posted awful pictures and comments.
“It was almost a campaign of negative, using the ‘R’ word, using terrible posters. In just a few hours her Facebook was covered with these things,” Sinkhorn said. “Now, I didn’t tell her (Potter) until we were at the end of it. I had cleared most of it up and some of her fans had come to her rescue.
“Lauren posted a response saying to her fans, ‘Thank you for having my back.’ Within a couple of minutes, at least a couple of hours, we had worldwide response from people in New Zealand, Australia, France, England, United States, everywhere saying, ‘we got your back.’ England has your back. New Zealand has your back. Australia has your back.
“So there are good people out there than want to take up this fight. And I hate to say fight, but that’s basically what it is.”
So a fight it is. A civil rights fight. Are you up for the challenge?
Hey, Lauren Potter, this is Genevieve Hinson from MotherofConfusion.com. Just wanted you to know, I got your back.
Now world, it’s your turn. Let Lauren Potter and children with special needs know, you got their back.
“Disable Bullying” extras
“Walk a Mile in Their Shoes” Testimonial
Kevin Kaneta: Bullied since the third grade
Kevin Kaneta was born with cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that affects body movement and muscle coordination. During an interview with a Denver, Colo. television station, he shared his experience as a bullying target since the third grade, and each year, it gets worse.
“They go after me because they see me as a vulnerable target,” said Kevin. Kevin walks slower than most children and drags his feet because of his disability. His mother, Tyleen Wilson, fears for his safety each day at school. “I worry if he’ll come home today,” said Wilson. “What if they really hurt him?”
Wilson stated she’s notified school administrators, as well as the Colorado media, that her son’s classmates have tripped and pinned him down and force fed dog food into his mouth. In late December 2010, Wilson noticed a Facebook picture that enraged her. It was of Kevin with his hooded sweatshirt tied tightly around his face.
“I thought it was a joke,” she said. “I prodded Kevin to tell me about the picture.” Kevin’s classmates had tied his sweatshirt tightly around his face and forced him to walk around the playground, barely able to see through the small opening. After taunting and teasing, the kids ripped the sweatshirt off, cutting his eyelids.
Another picture showed Kevin against the playground fence trying to break free. Both arms of the sweatshirt were tied to the fence post. “They just watched me struggle to get out,” said Kevin. “They put it on Facebook and now everyone knows it.”
There are many more personal stories in the full “Walk a Mile in Their Shoes” report (www.abilitypath.org/areas-of-development/learning–schools/bullying).
What can you do?
Do you have Lauren Potter’s back? Like her fan page on Facebook and let her know. (www.facebook.com/pages/Lauren-Potter/190879389856)
Are you taking up the cause to get the backs of children with special needs? Let everyone know. Blog, tweet, write and talk about this campaign. Take a stand, pledge to Spread the Word to End the Word (www.r-word.org). Share the “Walk a Mile in their Shoes” report (www.abilitypath.org/areas-of-development/learning–schools/bullying) and visit AbilityPath.org (http://abilitypath.org) to find toolboxes for parents, learn about the types and ways children are bullied, and find more ways to get help. Also, if you see someone in need, let them know you got their back and about AbilityPath.org.
Need help but aren’t getting it?
Call the Civil Rights Bureau at 1-800-926-0648. Parents can register complaints if they feel their child’s school hasn’t been responsive. A Department of Education specialist can talk to officials at the school and help work out a strategy for dealing with the culture or particular individuals that are creating the problem.
Did you know?
FX is the only TV network that doesn’t allow the word ‘retard’ used as a joke. It’s only one of three words banned by the network.
Genevieve Hinson is a writer, social media coordinator, wife and mom. She’s experienced 17 years of youth entertainment as a parent and sorts through movies, TV shows, books, music, apps and more so you don’t have to. Find out what’s parent-friendly, kid-friendly or what you should run screaming from at www.motherofconfusion.com.